Education Mar 5 2010

The things they say…..about academies

I sometimes laugh out loud at the things politicians say. Here is a gem from Shadow Tory Schools minister Michael Gove: ‘We need a new generation of schools run by teachers who know your child’s name, not by politicians’. What does he think happens in most schools now, that children are known by numbers or by the colour of their hair?

This profound observation came while the Conservative Party was re-launching its education policy for what feels like the umpteenth time this year. A dip in the polls gave it a new sense of urgency and Mr Gove, a man in a hurry, is now going to rush through legislation which will allow primary schools to become academies by September, in the event of a Conservative general election victory. So much for choice . Parents who applied to the school this year may find that by the time their child arrives on the first day of the autumn term it could be an entirely different institution and possibly run by Edutrust, Gems, Ark or one of the other ‘alternative providers’ the Tory front organisation the New Schools Network is working with to take over the running of state schools.

This policy appears to disempower parents in other ways. The rights of pupils, parents and teachers on a range of issues from admissions, to exclusions, special needs and teachers pay and conditions, are diminished when a school becomes ‘independent’ because the vast body of law that governs maintained schools is thrown out the window. Instead a funding agreement, a commercially confidential contract between the sponsor and the Secretary of State for Children Schools and Families governs how the school is run.

Central government ( which allegedly won’t be running the schools) will have the power, under a Conservative government, to force schools that are failing to become academies, but parents won’t be allowed to vote on whether they want this. Meanwhile outstanding primary schools will be allowed to simply convert to academies overnight too although it isn’t clear why they would want to if they are already successful and have a good relationship with their local authorities.

There is now plenty of evidence to suggest that academy status, independence or the introduction of a sponsor alone isn’t the magic bullet that can cure a failing school. The most recent research, by the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE showed that academies were not improving results any faster than other schools in similar circumstances ( ie starting from a low base). The government’s own evaluation carried out by Price Waterhouse Coopers stated that there was insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about academies as a model for school improvement and a recent report from the Sutton Trust pointed out that where results have improved, the intake of the school has also changed and that may partly account for the improvements.Even the Financial Times sounded a note of caution this week, headlining its story about accelerated primary academies and the Tory plans ‘Costly and no proof of raised standards’.

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